Sample from the Summer 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
LOTUS: A Universal Meditation Shrine
An Interview With Sri Gurudev by Seshagiri Rao, Ph.D.
In March of 1988, Dr. Seshagiri Rao interviewed Sri Gurudev for a journal article about the development of his interfaith work. Sri Gurudev revealed, in this very candid interview conducted in his residence in Yogaville, the inspiration behind the LOTUS and a vision to develop something more…
Dr. Seshagiri Rao: What is the history and vision behind your interfaith work?
Sri Gurudev: The vision originated, I should say, as early as 1953, while I was in Sri Lanka. I was there for about 13 years, and also traveled from there to other Far Eastern countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia and so on. I arrived actually in February 1953, and that July, we were making arrangements to celebrate Guru Poornima. All of a sudden something struck my mind, “What is this? I’m having friends all around me. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. They are all coming forward to help me in celebrating Guru Poornima. ” As you know, Guru Poornima is celebrated to respect, revere and renew our dedication towards our Guru. So, I thought, “If I put my Guru’s picture on the stage, and if all these people come and gather here, what would they feel?” So, I thought, why not ask them to bring the pictures, deities and moorthis of their faiths as well?” Everybody loved the idea. On that day, there were about 40 50 pictures on the stage. And we called it “All Saints Day.” Guru Poornima is Sanskrit, a Hindu term, so I called it “All Saints Day.”
Dr. Rao: In the Christian tradition there is also an “All Saints Day” but it’s limited to Christian saints.
Sri Gurudev: Yes, that is true. That is why, since then, we changed the name to “All Faiths Day.” Because we want everyone to know they are included. And everybody liked it. It really caught on, and was celebrated that way every Guru Poornima all over the country. So, that was the beginning. Also, while I was in Kandy, Sri Lanka, I started a monthly inter-religious gathering. And things grew from there. At that time, I was not thinking of building anything, but when I came to this country, within a few of weeks it happened that I was surrounded by a Buddhist monk, a Christian monk and a Jewish rabbi. So I told them what I had been doing in Sri Lanka. “Why not do something right here?” I asked them. Immediately they liked the idea. So, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Eido Tai Shimano Roshi and I started a center together that we named, the Center for Spiritual Studies.
In 1970, I held a ten-day Yoga retreat in one of the Catholic colleges. At the end of the tenth day — all these friends were there, the various clergy–we said, “How should we conclude this day? It should be a nice gathering, a common celebration, a ceremony.” Then I suggested, “Why not have an interfaith service?” They liked that idea. Within a few hours we had set up a round table, and right in the middle, a light. We sat around the light, and each one made an offering to that light in our own traditional way. That was the very beginning of the interfaith service, the Yoga Ecumenical Service [now called the Light of Truth Universal Service]. And that started catching on. At every retreat, every gathering, we ended up having this kind of service.
Dr. Rao: When did you get the idea of building the LOTUS?